On Friday, the board of directors for the Golden Gate Bridge voted unanimously to approve a $76 million project that will create a “mesh barrier” beneath San Francisco’s famed bridge. Al Jazeera reported:
The project will cost $76 million to complete. Of that amount, $7 million will come from a state tax enacted by voters on those who make more than $1 million a year, and is earmarked for mental-health services. The rest will be paid for with federal funds that recently became available and local money from the bridge district.
The plan to create suicide barriers on the bridge, where 1,600 people have leapt to their deaths since the span opened in 1937, was a subject of controversy for decades, with opponents arguing the mesh would mar the structure’s beauty.
In 2008, the bridge’s board voted to install a stainless steel net, rejecting other options, including raising the 4-foot-high railings and leaving the world-renown span unchanged.
Two years later, they certified the final environmental impact report for the net, which would stretch about 20 feet wide on each side of the span. Officials said it would not mar the landmark bridge’s appearance.
But funding for the project remained a major obstacle until two years ago when President Barack Obama signed into law a bill making safety barriers and nets eligible for federal funds.
Some of the money still requires additional approval, but the bridge’s board has now taken its final step in adopting the net.
NBC reported that more than a dozen family members of those who have perished after committing suicide were present at the meeting, with pleas to enact a barrier that could save dozens of lives a year. Many broke down in tears or uttered shouts of joy after the vote was announced, including Sue Story, whose son Jacob jumped in 2010. She embraced Dan Barks, a father who lost his son Donovan in 2008, exclaiming “We did it, Dan! We did it! It’s no longer the Bridge of Death anymore.”
Since its opening in 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge has been a popular site for suicides, with more than 1,600 having occurred since. The deadliest year was 2013, with 46 deaths and another 118 attempts that were stopped by bridge workers, The New York Times reported then.
Worldwide, it is the second most popular site for suicides, below the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge in Nanjing, China (which has had over 2,000 suicides) and well above the third-most popular site, the Prince Edward Island Viaduct in Toronto, Canada, which had 496 suicides until the construction of its own suicide barrier, the Luminous Veil, in 2003.
But some are skeptical that the suicide barrier will work. The Luminous Veil in Toronto, for instance, has prevented suicides from the viaduct, but has not changed the rate of suicide by jumping in the city itself.
Others, however, believe that making it more difficult for people attempting suicide really does, and they have the science to back it, said Slate. Studies find that restricting access to suicide spots is an effective way to stop jumping, and though neighboring areas do experience higher rates of suicide soon after a “suicide magnet” is made safe, overall rates do lower in the long run.
And at least one person who had attempted suicide is glad that the net is being built, reported The Guardian:
Kevin Hines, who miraculously survived his suicide attempt after jumping off the structure in 2000 at age 19, urged the board before its vote to “not let one more family sit in eternal pain in perpetuity because of politics.”
He later broke down after the unanimous vote approving the funding.
“I feel like a giant weight has been lifted off my shoulders, all of our shoulders. I feel free,” Hines said. “I feel a sense of hope that I haven’t had in a very long time. It’s not over yet. We will be here until that net is raised and no more people die.”